Turquoise, formed from hydrated copper aluminum phosphate, is one of the earliest gemstones ever mined, starting 3,000 years ago in Persia (now Iran). The sky-blue stone mined there was treasured because it was believed to have healing properties and the ability to protect or warn the wearer of evil.

Because of its scarcity, this beautiful blue turquoise is no longer mined in Iran, and so antique Persian turquoise jewelry, often carved and inlaid with gold, is extremely valuable. Such pieces, like necklaces and amulets, first came to Europe through Turkey, hence the name, “turquoise.”

However, this microcrystalline conchoidal stone has been found all over the globe, including in the former USSR, Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, China, Chile, Australia, Tanzania, Turkestan, England, Mexico, and the United States. Cultures throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas have attributed spiritual powers to turquoise.

The light and fragile material can range from opaque to semi-translucent, with a waxy to dull luster, and its colors, which vary based on their iron and copper content, span from China blue to deep blue, and from blue-green to yellowy green. In Tibet, green is the most valued color of turquoise.

Turquoise often has “inclusions” from the mother stone or “matrix” that held the turquoise as it formed, and this creates a “spiderweb” effect of brown, black, or ochre veins. Sometimes the spiderwebbing that perforates turquoise nuggets can make them easy to break apart if not handled correctly. Turquoise mined in the U.S. and Mexico is greener and often has more inclusions than the vein-free sky-blue version treasured in Persia.

Turquoise may be used for beads, cabochons, or carved pieces like cameos in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, and belt buckles. The most valuable turquoise available today comes from the Sleeping Beauty mines in Arizona; ideally, it is dark blue and matrix-free. A row of this grade of turquoise in 12mm round beads should cost as much as a row of 4.5mm faceted rubies.

In the late 1800s, Navajo artisans began to incorporate turquoise mined locally into their silver jewelry, but it was quickly mined out. A trader named Lorenzo Hubble began to import cut turquoise from Persia for the Native Americans to use. Then, in the early 1900s, a new mine for cut turquoise opened in Nevada. Soon other American mines followed. By then, it was expected that Native American jewelry would include turquoise...

Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and other tribes all developed distinct turquoise styles. For example, the Navajo created what is known as the “squash blossom” necklace style, which features a crescent-shaped pendant covered with turquoise beads. This style may have come from the pomegranate motif that the Spanish conquistadors brought to Mexico, but there is little evidence the Native Americans intended this design to represent that flower. This style was also adopted by the Zuni.

Zuni jewelry is known for its rows of “snake eyes,” which are small, rounded, high-domed cabochons, often made of turquoise or coral, as well as its “petit point” jewelry, a style that originated in the 1920s and is made of tiny hand-cut rounded, oval, or square turquoise clustered in unique designs. The Pueblo tribes, and particularly the San Domingo tribe, were known for their use of turquoise in mosaic jewelry, as well as their disk- or tube-shaped heishe beads. The Zuni were the first to introduce turquoise animal-shaped fetish beads.

If the turquoise in such Native American pieces has a matrix in it, sometimes it is also possible to identify which U.S. mine the stone came from, but not always.

In the 1950s and ’60s, several of the most glamorous jewelry collectors in the United States and Europe, such as Ava Gardner, had parures with pendent earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches fashioned out of large sky-blue and matrix-free Persian turquoise beads set with small, faceted diamonds.

Actress Merle Oberon wore such a parure, one from her own collection, for her role as a glamorous duchess in the 1967 movie “Hotel.” Opera singer Renata Tebaldi wore a costume jewelry piece for her lead role in “Adriana Lecouvreur” in Spain. Later, she had the set upgraded with real diamonds and turquoise. Countess Mona Bismarck had two particularly exquisite floral-themed turquoise-bead necklaces, one with a résille net setting and another made with twisted gold wire.

In the ’70s, Native American jewelry became wildly popular, to the point that United States mines were overwhelmed by the demand. Once again, Native American traders had to start importing Persian turquoise. This time, buyers focused on particular artisans and skilled jewelry makers such as Robert Sorrell, Charles Loloma, Lambert Homer, and Porfilio Sheyka.

Most turquoise jewelry on the market today, particularly if it is affordable, is imitation turquoise, or low-grade turquoise treated to have a more attractive appearance. In fact, imitation turquoise goes back to the Victorians, who were the first to use glass to mimic the stone; it is difficult to distinguish from the real thing, but if you spot bubbles under the surface, you are looking at glass.

Enamel turquoise tends to have a greater luster than real turquoise. Other stones like howlite, fossil bone, limestone, and chalcedony are stained and sold as turquoise, too. In 1972, a French company called Gilson produced imitation turquoise in the lab, and even gave it the spiderweb matrix.

Natural turquoise may also be treated. Reconstructed or pressed turquoise is made of turquoise powder or chips mixed with liquid plastic resin, which is then dyed and baked. This cheap material can be identified by looking at it under magnification or heating it, as it will reveal a burning plastic smell.

Most real American turquoise may turn green in response to light, oil, heat, and water, so it should be treated with care. Because it is more porous than Persian turquoise, American turquoise is stabilized by soaking it in resin or impregnating it with wax. This is to keep it from crumbling and does not affect the value. Enhanced turquoise is dyed to improve its color and luster, but the effect is temporary, so this kind of turquoise is much cheaper. In this case, you can see the difference in color just by scratching the surface.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fine Pair Victorian Gold & Turquoise Pendant Earrings In Original Fitted BoxOld Pawn Fred Harvy Era Navajo Sterling Silver Stamped Turquoise Cuff Bracelet JFine Victorian Turquoise,seed Pearl & Baroque Pearl Art Nouveau Gold PendantAntique Victorian Austro Hungarian Silver Garnet Turquoise Enamel Bow Brooch PinVtg Zuni Sterling Silver Petit Point Natural Turquoise Cluster Cuff Bracelet JStunning Victorian Turquoise Art Nouveau Rose Gold Pendant On ChainVtg Old Pawn Navajo Handmade Sand Cast Sterling Silver Turquoise Cuff Bracelet JAntique 14k Yellow Gold Pearl Turquoise Floral Drop Dangle EarringsFine Heavy Victorian Style Turquoise Gold BraceletHuge Rare Vtg Ethnographic Tribal Sterling Silver Turquoise Bead Bib NecklaceHuge Rare Older Vintage Zuni Petit Point Turquoise Cluster Sterling BraceletGorgeous Antique Victorian Heavy Gold Filled Persian Turquoise Birds Nest LocketEstate 13.50ct Diamond Sapphire Turquoise 14k Gold Cocktail Ring 8.2 Grams NrAntique Ladys Art Deco 18kt White Gold Diamond Onyx & Turquoise Ring ... NrFine Victorian Turquoise And Seed Pearl 15ct Gold RingThick 20g 3 5/8" Vintage Navajo Petit Point Turquoise Sterling Cluster EarringsVtg Zuni Sterling Silver Petit Point Natural Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace JVintage Navajo Sterling Silver Natural Turquoise Petite Squash Blossom NecklaceVintage Navajo Sterling Silver & Lander Blue Turquoise Ring Sz 7 │ RsVintage Signed Navajo Silver Spiderweb Turquoise Squash Blossom Naja NecklaceExtremely Rare Early Vintage Zuni Frank Dishta Turquoise Inlay Sterling EarringsVintage Zuni Handmade Sterling Silver Square Turquoise Row Cuff Bracelet │j BoBig Old Pawn Vtg Navajo Bisbee Blue Turquoise Sterling Mens Women Cuff BraceletOld Pawn Vtg Tom Kidd Navajo Big Azurite Turquoise Chrysocolla Sterling Bolo TieMuseum Vintage Navajo ""blue Thunder Turquoise"" BraceletHuge Stunning Tom Bahe Vintage Navajo Turquoise Sterling Squash Blossom NecklaceOld Pawn Vtg Navajo Sterling Sand Cast Turquoise Hands Squash Blossom NecklaceVtg 114g Old Pawn Zuni M Comer Sterling Silver Turquoise Red Coral Cuff BraceletRare Vintage Gene Gibson Navajo Turquoise Coral Chip Inlay Sterling BraceletVtg Navajo Hand Stamped Cast Sterling Silver Turquoise Small Cuff Bracelet |gVtg Victorian Austro Hungarian Revival Silver Turquoise Seed Pearl NecklaceAntique 9k Gold Filigree Lavalier Drop Persian Turquoise Natural Pearl NecklaceOld Pawn Vintage Ss Handmade Navajo Pearl Necklace / Pendant Turquoise Naja "ea"Vtg Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral Spinner Reversible Pendant Necklace GVintage Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Cuff Bracelet | G LxVintage Zuni Sterling Silver Turquoise Knifewing Inlay Pin Brooch | G BmVintage Navajo Sterling Silver With Lone Mountain Web Turquoise Cuff Bracelet14k Yellow Gold Persian Turquoise Cabochon Etruscan Wire Bead Work Vintage RingOld Pawn Vintage Sterling Silver Genuine Turquoise Necklace / Choker Signed JjmVintage Native Sterling Silver Concho Belt Turquoise Hand Made 16 Conchos 226.5gVtg Zuni Sterling Silver Petit Point Turquoise Cluster Necklace Signed "gg" | J 3.25" Super Fine Like Lace Vintage Zuni Needle Point Turquoise Sterling EarringsVintage Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Lone Mountain Turquoise Ring 7.5 SignedOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Naja Turquoise Coral Sterling Ornate Post EarringsExceptional Antique Zuni Kings Manassa Turquoise Sterling Silver Cuff Old Pawn Vintage Navajo 25" Kingman Green Polished Turquoise Nugget Sterling NecklaceVtg 153g Old Pawn Morenci Turquoise Coral Sterling Silver Navajo Cuff BraceletHuge Rare 50's Heavy Vintage Zuni Petit Point Turquoise Cluster Sterling RingOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Bench Bead Morenci Turquoise Necklace 18"Double Band Sterling Silver And Turquoise Bracelet 7" Large SignedVintage Zuni Sterling Silver Blue Turquoise Petit Point Sun Burst EarringsVintage - Persian Turquoise - Clip On Earrings - 8.5 Grams 14k Gold $1 No Res !Vtg Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Natural Morenci Turquoise Bracelet By "sa" JCollectible Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Ring Kenneth Begay Sz 6.5 | Rs Vtg ~ Old Pawn Gigantic Turquoise Graduated Disk Beads 168.5gVintage Old Pawn Navajo Rolled Green Turquoise 24" Necklace Sterling Cones ClaspBig & Beautiful Vintage Navajo Sterling Silver Lone Mountain Turquoise RingVintage Navajo Indian Sterling Silver & Turquoise Ring, 12.7 Grams, Mens Sz.12.5Victorian 9ct Rose Gold & Turquoise Set Gypsy Ring Size (uk) PVintage Navajo Handmade Sand Cast Sterling Silver Turquoise Cuff Bracelet J La